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I Don’t Remember That

This is a wallpaper of a sleeping cat

This is a wallpaper of a sleeping cat

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where someone (usually your boss or a higher-up) makes an announcement or a decision using draft or preliminary figures that you had given them some time ago?  Only today the correct figures are different from what you presented as a draft.  Then when you ask why the “old” numbers were used, the finger points back at you.

Awkward, isn’t it?

Suddenly you’re on the defensive and your credibility challenged because of an earlier estimate or cautionary advice that perhaps you didn’t want to give out in the first place.

You want to scream at the offending party, “don’t you remember that I told you that the figures weren’t final?”  That your analysis was incomplete at the time, that further checking was required, or that you gave your best estimate based only on preliminary data?

But you are the author of those figures, no matter how wrong they are today.  So why are they still in play?

Selective Memory

It often turns out that all that was remembered by the fellow with the frown on his face was that particular damning figure, and all the buzzing in their ears about qualifier terms and conditions that preceded and followed it has been forgotten.  To your chagrin you may now be viewed as someone who either; 1) gave incorrect information, or 2) subsequently changed your mind without telling anyone.

Unfortunately, you can’t say what you’re thinking.  That wouldn’t be a good career move.  The only card you have to play reads “damage control.”  Roll out those qualifiers again.

Earlier in my career, when I was responsible for job evaluation, I would steadfastly refuse to offer a preliminary evaluation, having been burnt by the same scenario as above.  I found that, if the managers liked what they heard, that’s all that they would hear.  Because if, lord forbid the final analysis differed from the preliminary estimate you’d be hauled up before the Inquisition to explain why you changed your mind.

“I already told the employee,” is a phrase I’ve heard more than once – before I learned to keep my mouth shut.

So be careful when you give a number to management before you’re confident enough to defend it.  For their own purposes they’ll grab what you give and lock it down with their fixated, but flawed memory, while at the same time forgetting any qualifier terms or cautions you might have provided.

It’s human nature to remember what you want to hear, or what you can accept.  So that preliminary figure you surrounded with qualifiers?  Chances are management was OK with the number, or at least could deal with it, and so off they ran to integrate your analysis into their plans.

“I Don’t Remember You Saying That”

In their forgetfulness, they might even grow irritated with you, for all the plans they made with “draft” or “preliminary” data (shame on them).  These folks suddenly act like you changed your mind, or gave them wrong information.  All your previous explanations and qualifier comments are lost.

Management memories can be quite selective, and they would be very reluctant to admit an error on their part, never mind deal with the consequences that their actions created.  But as they are higher up than you on the food chain, discretion in verbal and written thought still remains your best response.

What Can You Do?

This is a situation where your options are limited, because; a) you’re likely dealing with your boss or higher, and any critique of their behavior needs be carried out very carefully, and b) when you’re asked for a number you generally have to give one.  Begging off is usually not an option.

So remember a tactic once described to me by a Training colleague:  you have to tell them, then tell them again, then remind them of what you told them.  So if caught up in a “give me a number” quandary, you need to emphasize whatever qualifiers might later modify the figure(s) being discussed.  Then you have to repeat your concerns again before closing.

Finally, put the worrisome figures in writing, nicely wrapped together with whatever concerns you have about its validity.  Cover yourself.

Will it work?  Will it save you from another awkward moment?   Perhaps.

Life isn’t fair, is it?  So no, even this strategy will fail from time to time.  But at least you’ll have positioned yourself to present an effective response.

Just remember to be polite about it.

Dotting The “I” And Crossing The “T”

Employee, per Southern Methodist U.In order to manage reward programs effectively, compensation practitioners and senior management need to understand how externally competitive those programs are.  In making that determination, though, just how precise does the analysis have to be?  To what lengths should one go to increase the level of exactitude in the analysis, and is that effort worthwhile?  Does the effort to squeeze out greater precision bring meaningful results?

In other words, what’s the additional value of dotting the “I’s” and crossing the “T’s”?

As compensation professionals will tell you, the competitive “marketplace” for reward program surveys is an imprecise animal, subject to numerous variations and interpretations.

  • One survey doesn’t use the same companies as the next survey.
  • The ability to match job descriptions varies from precise to broadly similar roles
  • Surveys provide different mixes of industries, geographies, and revenue
  • The use of weighted average/Average/ Median/ 50th percentile formats isn’t standardized
  • International surveys often fail to provide enough information

In addition, the market is a moving target as population changes, organizations shift and employee pay fluctuates.  This means that you’ll need to be careful of “aging” factors, such as adjusting data from date of collection to the current or some future date.   My practice is to “round” to the nearest 100 units of annual currency.  Is that distorting data?

Pick A Figure?

Do you think that a market rate of $47,570 for a particular job is an accurate reflection of current trends, or simply an arithmetic average of data that looks precise?  Would you fall on your sword over that figure?

Using three different surveys would likely provide three separate figures.  Let’s say your sources report $45,723, $47,612 and $49,375.  If cost, time and effort are not factors to consider, then you could keep going, searching for that common denominator.  Purchase another survey source.  Double and triple check your job matches.  But do you think that the extra source, the extra time/effort will substantially change your initial analysis, or are you simply looking to protect yourself?   Repetition is sometimes just that, more of the same with little-increased value.

Are you playing a defensive game to divert potential criticism?

For most of us, a quick and straightforward analysis suggests that approximately $47,500 is good enough.

And what degree of precision are you being asked to provide?  Are your instructions to feel the pulse of the marketplace,  to get a sense of what is being paid out there?  Or do you need a more precise result?  Is your audience demanding more?

Is The Market A Number?

What is that market?  Anything within +5% to -5% of a “market rate” figure is close enough for me.  Others believe that variable should be 10%, but in my view that leaves too wide a range that could distort your intent to provide the so-called “going rate” trend.

Caution:  You can find any number of analysis paralysis jockeys out there who advocate increasingly precise techniques to zero in on what they call your true market rate.  Just remember that many vendors have built a business around encouraging organizations to slice and dice whatever information is available, trying to define and refine exactly what a “market” is paying, what jobs are exact matches and after a fashion what numbers you can rely on.

Part of their marketing strategy is to use custom designed evaluation techniques and proprietary job matching systems.  Such a strategy effectively marries the organization to the vendor, as one often can’t use proprietary language and techniques (the system) with other survey providers – without the risk of apples vs. oranges.

The Leadership Perspective

From a senior leadership perspective, do you need that depth of precision to make a business decision?

I think you don’t.

There’s a place for precision, and a place for trends – for a “feel of the pulse.”  Usually, senior management wants to gauge the big picture – the overall strategy and its implementation status – letting professional specialists deal with the tactical details.

Have a care in your efforts to be precise, because when you give senior management too many details they tend to dive in almost as a defense mechanism as if they are expected to ask questions. Where they might otherwise have nodded their heads at key points in your presentation, you can instead find yourself immersed in detailed analytics that can bog down the decision-making process.

Management wants your professional judgment.  They don’t want you to defer opinions to what a survey says.  Use survey data as a backup.  Don’t feel you always need to lead with it.

Standing back and pointing at figures is like leading with your chin in a fight.

You won’t like the results.

The Few And The Brave

Different Is Beautiful, by epicnomWhen it comes to the design of performance management programs most companies play it safe.  Right smack in the middle of their assessment scale is the word “average”; or perhaps they use “meets expectations,” or “satisfactory” or the like.  Each term signals the same assessment, though – middle of the road.  And isn’t that where managers expect most employee to fall?  After all, the height of a distribution curve peaks at “average.”

Surveys show that over 80% of organizations using a rating scale to assess employee performance have chosen either a three, five (most popular) or seven scale system.  The common denominator of each is a middle rating category, the average.

But what if you chose not to have a middle rating in your performance review process?  What if you told managers that they couldn’t call anyone “average;” that employees would have to be designated as either better or less than that?

No Can Do

Which is exactly what you’ll hear.  Many managers will balk at having to choose between rating someone as either what they consider an under or over performer.  That’s the way they’ll see the decision-making process – as forcing them to select what is for them an incorrect rating.  Because they think the majority of employee performance falls between those ratings.  Because they think most folks are average, doing the job that they were hired to perform.  And “average” is a safe word.

Other organizations have decided that they want their performance review process to couple development dialogue into the conversation and encourage employees going forward.  These feel that in order to achieve that goal they need to better describe how their employees have been performing.  Which means that they take away the middle ground.

Perhaps there’s a different way to look at the rating process, a less “easy button” approach that doesn’t provide a default selection for the manager.  Perhaps there’s a tactic that might help drive employee performance – instead of simply reacting to it.

What if the performance review process asked a different question?  Instead of assessing how an employee’s performance compared to a common-man average, what if the question became whether the employee was “successful” in their job?


Here’s a word that implies achievement, the gaining of favorable results.  Compare that against what the dictionary would describe as common, ordinary, typical – the average.  An argument can be made that an “average” employee is not necessarily a successful one and that a successful employee is a better performer than an average one.  For the good of your business, I’d suggest that you’d want to encourage more successful employees than average ones.

A common management view of “average” employees is that “we’re not going to get where we want to go with this group.”  The desired goal of a high performing organization will not be achieved on a foundation of common, ordinary and typical employees.

Needs Improvement

What if, instead of saying an employee’s performance was below average (usually seen as just below the middle ground) you viewed effort more positive, saying that the employee was “on track” though not quite yet successful?  This can be a different, less negative perspective.  If you want your performance review process to help drive performance, then encouraging employees (“you’re almost there, keep it up”) is a better strategy than negativism.  And if you believe that performance recognized is performance repeated, then you want to make sure you focus on a glass that’s half-full, not half-empty.

Taking A Risk

Designing a performance review process without a middle rating for your performance scale is taking a risk, which is no doubt why most companies steer clear.

  • Too many employees could be ranked “successful,” merely to avoid the negative connotation of “needs improvement.”
  • Over-rated employees might be given the wrong message, inflating their perception of a performance that doesn’t deliver the same effort to the organization.
  • The bottom two (of four) rating categories would see little use as “Needs Improvement” retains its strong negative connotation.
  • The organization wouldn’t have sufficient merit increase monies to reward the great majority of employees rated “successful”  – thus leaving little room (or motivation) for lower ratings.

Such an environment could weaken your performance review process to the point of being ineffective – almost pointless.  Those rated less than “successful” would likely fall below 10% – 20% of your workforce – which for most organizations is not a true reflection of performance.

Many of the ratings might even become reluctant manager “gifts” meant not so much to recognize performance but rather to avoid facing uncomfortable conversations with disappointed employees.

This is where management training, coupled with a careful and continuous monitoring of the performance review process, would be key to success.  When you don’t provide a default “easy button” you need to make sure that the decision-makers not only understand the rationale of the four-scale rating system but follow it.

So kudos to those with a four scale performance rating system.  They’re trying to walk the talk of performance management and pay-for-performance.  I wish them luck.

Do We Need A Pay Structure?

6273248505_43d0b56424_oOnce an organization reaches a certain employee population it’s been typical practice for the Human Resources department to replace their ad hoc compensation/reward processes with a more structured program.  A key element of that program development is the establishment of a base salary (pay) structure.  Here you will have an ascending hierarchy of grade level designations (your position is a grade “x,” mine is a grade “y”, etc), coupled with ranges that indicate a minimum-to-maximum value (pay) for each grade.

While distinctions in design can vary amongst organizations the central point of having a uniform structure is very much commonplace in both for-profit and non-profit organizations.

You probably see the “but” coming, don’t you?

Startups And Small Businesses

Just the other day one of my clients, a young and fast-growing high-tech company, explained to me that they didn’t use grades or salary ranges.  They didn’t have a pay structure.  They felt that they didn’t have the time to develop a standardized reward program. “We’re moving too fast,” the CHRO told me, and “We don’t have the time, people or money to focus on an HR project.”

That’s a common response for start-ups and small businesses.  The feeling is that there aren’t yet enough employees to start building an HR infrastructure.  Everyone knows everyone else’s first name and the company Christmas Party could be held at a restaurant.  Also, business leaders are too engaged in more important endeavors: getting the business off the ground, developing products and services and setting up mechanisms to sell their offerings.

Therefore these first generation employees are usually paid on the basis of:

  • Whatever the individual employee could negotiate
  • Whatever the company felt it would take to get chosen candidates to join, or
  • Setting of fixed rates for everyone in a particular job

Little thought is given to pay relationships (equity) or even the short-term impact on payroll expense.  The focus is lock set on creating a business, of getting the ball rolling.  Even job titles become an afterthought, with resultant title inflation slowly infecting the organization, and almost no one has a job description.

I get that.  That’s the reality of getting a business off the ground.  HR takes a back seat.

But it can’t last.

Paying The Piper

Eventually, these poor compensation practices will start to cause real pain within the organization, similar to how too much sugar inevitably causes tooth cavities in children.  Payroll gets out of hand (too high), inequity amidst the staff starts to cause employee relations issues and managers begin to see valued employees becoming disgruntled and heading for the exit.

By the time management starts to realize they have a problem, not only have the problems grown serious and disruptive, but those pay practices that no one cared about earlier have now become ingrained in the small company’s culture. Now it’s not going to be so easy to change course.  Now management risks angering some employees even as they try to steer the ship away from the reefs.  Some of those employees could be valued contributors.

For example:

  • Disconnecting inappropriate job titles is sometimes easier said than done.  Employee egos and self-identification have been blown out of proportion, but to make someone take a step back is difficult.
  • Dealing with outliers who either pop out the top of a salary range or fail to meet the minimum level.  When faced with a competitive pay structure to replace the ad hoc and laissez faire suddenly some employees are found to be overpaid, while others are underpaid.
  • Facing the cost implications of the above.  Raising someone to the minimum value of a pay range is an easy decision, but what if many employees are affected?  And if an employee has been with you for awhile, raising them to the minimum can still be perceived as a slap in the face.
  • Setting grade assignments that reconcile a job evaluation system, competitive market pricing results, and internal equity.  Think of a juggling act where everyone is a potential critic.

So do yourself a favor.  Pay attention to germinating pay issues even as the business passes through its stage 1 and stage 2 development.  Then, when it’s time to standardize and structure your reward programs you will find the road ahead all the smoother for your efforts.

Stubborn Is As Stubborn Does



I share my house with five cats (a clowder, it’s called) and it’s been that way for as long as I can remember.  One or two fur balls has never been enough for us.  I love them, they are part of my family, but I recognize that they are stubborn, stubborn, stubborn creatures, and at times it seems like they’re the ones who run the place.

Have you ever tried to change the brand of a cat’s food, or what goes into their litter box, or even their water dish?  They don’t react well to the new and different, and when they don’t react well their loud voices and sometimes unpleasant behavior can really disrupt your day.

These felines are creatures of habit, preferring a daily pattern of repeated behavior that in their view creates a safe and reassuring environment – where they feel the most comfortable.  Break that pattern and you get the look, or worse.  I can attest to the fact that dealing with the stubborn and the habitual can be a real trial.

In the business world, many companies are populated by managers who possess similar inflexible behavior, an aversion to breaks in pattern.  Those who like things left just the way they are.  Whoever coined the phrase “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” was probably a charter member in that “blinders on, head in the sand” leadership cadre who likes the comfort of repetitive action.

While it’s a truism that continuing to use yesterday’s strategy and operating principles is rarely a recipe for future success, how often do you see managers hang on to what used to work – until the signs of failure become so visible and so painful that they can no longer be accepted?


These folks with their heads in the sand are not necessarily bad managers or even poor business leaders.  What they are is comfortable, and when we’re comfortable we feel safe, relaxed in our surroundings, familiar with what needs to get done and perhaps a bit over confident about our control of the work environment.

When we feel comfortable and confident we prefer to repeat those same actions that brought us to our present state of mental ease.  In other words, we don’t like to rock the boat, we don’t like what we consider “change for the sake of change,” and we’re skeptical of new and unproven techniques.  We get stubborn and dig in our heels.

“It’s worked before, it brought us success.  Let’s leave it alone.”

However, when someone or some event breaks that comfort level (new competition, weakened economy, technological advances, etc.), the first thing we experience is anger that our warm cocoon could be shattered by new business realities.  Soon enough though, that anger will convert to a sense of fear, whether we admit it or not.  More than likely we’ll act out in an aggressive fashion that disguises the panic we’re feeling.


People can be fearful of change, especially leaders.  Because they don’t know the new rules, because there are risks when implementing new strategies, and those who stick their head above the crowd can get it chopped off.  We’ve all seen that happen.

When you must get yourself up and out of your comfort zone it’s a natural reaction to feel defensive and unsure about what you should do next.  A relaxed and comfortable leadership may not have the competencies or the experience to adapt to new business challenges.  Because it’s not difficult to lead when things are going well.  But when the going gets rough, when the pressure is on to change course, to implement new strategies, not so much.

“I’m not sure about what to do; everything has changed.”

Pushed from their safe environment management can find itself unsure, defensive and unsettled about the correct way forward.  And until matters settle down again they can be difficult for us practitioners to work with.

You Can Help Them 

You may consider managers stuck in the past as living dinosaurs, but have a care because these beasts have teeth.  Because they don’t like this uncomfortable new world some will tend to shoot the messenger.  In order to offer assistance to a leadership challenged by the unfamiliar, practitioners need to step up and provide steady, confident and reliable advice.

  • Acknowledge the past:  Yes, previous strategies have worked well and brought the company success and financial strength, reputation and a strong foundation for the future.  You should acknowledge a well-deserved pat on the shoulders for management.
  • Focus on the why:  Whenever advocating change, focus your message, your research, your examples and your entire business case on why your recommendations lead to solutions.  Keep your eye on the goal, not the changing patterns of behavior.
  • Dangle the carrot:  Always point toward the business and personal success that would be the result of implementing your recommendations.  Besides highlighting the achievement of business success, emphasize that leadership will gain credit for managing the organization through these difficult times.  Stroking the ego doesn’t hurt here.

The next time someone comes to you with an idea to build a better mousetrap, listen to them.  Keep your eyes, your mind and your options open.  Maybe there’s something useful here.  Instead of being afraid of change, embrace the possibilities presented.  New thinking that takes in the new realities surrounding you can make for a better tomorrow.  Perhaps you’ll even shake off that tag of “stubborn.”

We Don’t Pay For Performance

White stone among black, by CyronIn a recent article of mine,  “Do You Really Pay For Performance?”  I suggested several methods for organizations wishing to improve their Pay-For-Performance (P4P) program.  On the other side of the coin, however, there are those out there who prefer to turn away from the matter entirely.  Some organizations do not wish to pay for performance at all and are frankly open about it.

While there seems to be an increasing dialogue about this strategy lately, and several recent articles have highlighted such outside-the-box thinking, current surveys suggest that only around 10% of organizations self-identify with going in a different direction for rewarding their employees.  And of course, when you march to the beat of a different drum you’re going to get a lot of attention, either positive or negative.  Thus the hot bed issue of late.

Marching To A Different Beat

Why does an organization argue against rewarding employees for their job performance?  At first blush, it seems counterintuitive not to acknowledge how an employee performs as a helpful if not critical criteria for judging (and rewarding) that performance.

But for some, there are very real reasons for taking a different tack.

Below is a list of reasons that I’ve heard from clients of mine who have either gone down this road or given it serious thought.  Maybe you’ve heard some of these yourself.  Maybe you’ve heard other reasons.

  • Trust:  Employees don’t trust their managers to properly rate employee performance.  This is a frequently heard complaint, even from those possessing a successful P4P program.  The core of this comes down to the individual level (one’s own boss) and the amount of training provided to those in authority.  However, when an organization feels that they need to step away from P4P for this reason, some serious self-analysis of management practices is in order.
  • Everyone is great: The saying goes, all of our employees are already performing at high levels, so how can we differentiate?  However, this rationale ignores the premise that standards of expected performance should rise even within successful groups.  Even within high performing groups, some employees are better than others.
  • One size fits all: An organization may implement a general increase where everyone gets the same pay increase.  When you can’t or won’t set a policy aimed at differentiating among employees a simple alternative is to give everyone the same increase, regardless.
  • Employees said so:  What I heard was that the employees had told management that they didn’t want P4P.  If the majority of employees are doing an average/successful/satisfactory job, wouldn’t that group be advocates for a general increase?  More so the less than successful, but less so the high achievers.  Another question is whether you should change such an important policy on the basis of an internal survey.  Unless management doesn’t care, either way.
  • EASY button: Easy to administer.  It’s hard to argue that simple processes are the easiest to communicate, implement and defend against criticism.  And P4P programs by their nature differentiate between employees, where losers complain and winners tend to be silent.
  • Universal equity: Everybody knows how they’ll be treated. Pick a common phrase; “We’re all XYZ employees,” “Everyone puts their shoes on the same way,” or “We believe that teams, not individuals, deliver success for our organization.”  The sentiment here is that the practice of differentiating between how employees are treated, especially in a [supposed] subjective manner, is inherently bad for the organization.
  • Rewards for other reasons:  Absent a P4P program organizations also use length of service tenure (LOS) and cost of living (vs. cost of labor) as so-called transparent reasons to grant pay increases.  The price of a loaf of bread went up, thus your pay should as well.  You’ve been here a long time (and we haven’t fired you), so you must be worth more money.  It’s time.

Is This For You?

Maybe.  Perhaps your organization has problems (above) similar to those who decided to walk away from P4P programs.  Maybe your management or HR is not concerned about encouraging good employee performance.

Personally, I don’t agree with taking what I consider a drastic and unreasonable approach to rewards, and I don’t think it solves the problem, but it’s an issue that every organization grapples with, at one time or another.  And there is usually more than one answer to most questions.

In my view having and maintaining an effective P4P program is hard work.  It’s also work that you can’t ignore or walk away from as “Done!”  You have to keep at it.

Or perhaps you can take the easy way out.

But first ask yourself; how would you like your own situation to be handled?

Do You Really Pay For Performance?

Candy reward, by Enokson's PhotostreamTo answer this question most companies would say that, yes – they have a pay-for-performance (PFP) program.  Such a statement is chic, politically correct and offers a positive message about how the company values its employees.  What’s to argue with?  Paying employees on the basis of what they have contributed to the company makes sense, doesn’t?  If they give more they receive more.

On the other hand, a negative response is to suggest that you’re not being fair to your employees, that your idea of a proper reward is to bypass individual performance in favor of treating everyone the same, regardless of contribution.  However, as that acknowledgment would paint you as an employer who is insensitive to variations of employee effort and achievement, it’s more likely that you’ll fall in line and say “yes, of course, we pay our employees for their performance.”

But Do They?  Do You?

There’s an entrenched viewpoint by many in management that granting “merit” pay increases means that their company provides pay for performance.  However, if most employees receive some form of pay increase (90%+), is there really a meaningful distinction being made between high performers and those who merely occupied a chair for the past 12 months?  Isn’t such a practice (if we haven’t fired you, then you’ll get an increase) more like a modified attendance award?

If you’re serious about it, your decision to adopt an effective pay-for-performance strategy should include two critical elements:

  • The decision not to pay if the employee hasn’t performed
  • The decision to make it worthwhile for an employee to be a high performer

One of the common pay practices that continue to hamper the effectiveness of PFP plans is the misuse of the annual merit pay pool through inflated performance evaluations and automatic increases.   Continued use of this practice will increase your fixed costs, but in a manner that won’t effectively reward employee performance or encourage extra effort.

Making PFP work for your company will require hard decisions from line managers who are otherwise accustomed to maintaining employee morale through the avoidance of objective performance reviews.  We have seen that, while there is a shift toward greater rewarding of individual effort, additional monies are not being provided as a result of that shift.  Merit budgets will not increase to accommodate “feel good” increases.  So in order to more effectively use available salary increase dollars companies need to reward their high performers with money effectively taken away from (not granted to) those performing at lower levels.  You can call this, “taking from Peter (average) to pay Paul (higher performer).”

This may also mean that many average performers, the bulwark of most companies, will receive less than they might otherwise have expected from past experience (which is at least an average raise).  What it comes down to is a company’s ability to afford proper rewards for their higher achieving employees (thus motivating and retaining them in the process) by reducing or eliminating rewards to those deemed as underperforming or going through the motions.

The risk exposure is that if managers, through the utilization of performance management programs, don’t properly identify and restrict awards for less deserving employees, the PFP budget will not have enough funds to afford appropriate rewards for high performers.  So you should ask yourself, who is it you would rather disappoint?  Who has less impact on your business and whose loss would be less disruptive to your operations?

While published reports clearly indicate a trend away from one-size-fits-all reward systems, one should look below the surface to learn whether employee performance is being appropriately measured and rewarded.  That distinction is the true measure of PFP.

Getting Serious

To effectively use a pay-for-performance system a company should:

  • Educate employees as to what performance will be rewarded.  This requires measurements, and performance objectives that align vertically in the organization (employee goals relate to supervision, whose own goals relate to management, and on upward to corporate goals).
  • Provide a well-defined rating scale that helps managers distinguish between levels of performance.  Be careful of the word, “average,” as many managers use that as a default rating.
  • Provide a clear distinction of reward between those who have delivered and those who have not.  An employee who doesn’t see much gain from working hard all year (2%+ differential) is less likely to repeat their performance the following year.  For an extra 1%, would you?

So the next time you are asked whether your company rewards employees for their performance, perhaps your answer might not differ, but now you recognize the distinction being made by your employees.   It’s up to you whether to be satisfied with your answer.

Are You Too Busy?

Stress, by Mike KlineIt seems as though everyone is busy at work these days.  We have more challenges to face, more complexities of the job to learn, we have to do more with fewer resources, and there just doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day to get done what needs to get done.

Does this sound like you?  Have I just described your typical day?  I’d wager that this scenario reverberates with many managers and individual contributors out there.  As a result,  we’re always looking for ways to be more efficient, more effective, more focused on the task in front of us, and all without having to spend time and effort that are luxuries today.

Play It Again, Sam

Which is why I suspect that it’s so tempting to hit the “replay” button to administer our reward programs, policies, and procedures.  Let’s just do the same thing again next time (work processes, project plans, program designs, time lines, etc.)  because what we did worked (mainly) last time.  Because we have other issues to worry about, other pressures coming to bear, so let’s stick here and now with what we’re familiar with.

The argument is compelling.  You have only two hands, you have (maybe) limited help available and the ever-present tight time lines are constantly leaning over your shoulder.  Likely your project book is full as well.

So a common tactic we often see is to repeat what you can, wherever you can so that there is more time left to concentrate on the new stuff.  Those programs and projects that you’ve worked on before can safely become a repetitive effort.  You can delegate it, you can push it to the side as you let someone else follow the path you laid out last year, and perhaps the year before. Some workflow can be placed on automatic pilot.

Perhaps that new stuff you want to/have to become engaged with is exciting, so your interests are in spending your limited time and effort there.  Learning new things, perhaps gaining greater exposure with higher management, being challenged a bit more, taking in the breath of fresh air that comes with blazing new paths and gaining new experiences.  New is almost always more invigorating to you as a professional, while the old stuff is just that – old.  And boring.

But there lies the trap.  Letting yourself ignore opportunities to improve on past practices ensures you remain captured and caged by that past.  Because you feel that you don’t have the time to investigate possible improvements to something that has admittedly worked before.   The mantra of, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” came from this attitude.

The Risk Of The New Idea

However, when you don’t want to spend the time and effort to try an improved methodology – you keep on doing what you’ve always done – this causes you to miss out on opportunities to explore, invent, experiment.  To grow as a professional.  Taking such risks (avoiding administration and embracing creative tweaking) can pay big dividends – but you have to make the effort, even when that effort is more work than what you have on your plate now.

Perhaps you think, “What if these improvements don’t work?”  You’d have spent all that time and effort, and for nothingAnd now there may not be time to start again with the tried and true method.  Woe is us.

That worry is another reason the pressure remains with us on to automatically repeat, to administer where you could instead innovate.

You should never be too busy to learn new skills, to push the edge of the envelope by trying out new ideas.  You should never be too busy to do the right thing.

Otherwise, you’re doing little more than sitting on your hands, waiting for the clock to say 5:00.

One final thought: what was once effective and efficient eventually starts to lose that positive edge once repetition replaces innovation.  So change the oil in your car before the engine fails.

Excuse To Fail

Mistakes, by Orange_BeardAs an HR or Compensation practitioner, have you ever found yourself trying to change the mind of someone in Senior Management?  When the decision-maker seems hell-bent on rushing down a particular pathway that you’re positive leads only to a cliff?  From your own experience, you’re convinced that the endgame for the projected action will be negative results and also rife with unforeseen consequences.  Such pending damage will land with a thud and could burn you and the organization over undue costs, damaged employee morale, increased turnover, weakened market share, litigation liabilities, etc. etc.  Pick a bad reaction.

So it’s a clunker of an idea.

But the leadership has dug in their heels because they know best.  And you know how low you stand in the organization chart.

We’ve talked before on these pages about various strategies to employ, if you want to, in an effort to chart a different course.  I say “if” because we’ve all seen examples of those who prefer to play the political game and administer vs. lead the compensation function.   Their apparent mantra is, “Keep my head down, smile, nod my head and say whatever the boss wants to hear.”

However, perhaps going with the flow is not for you.  Good, but be prepared for pushback when you say, “Yes, but” to those in charge.  You may find few with the stomach to discuss the merits of the plan about to be unfurled, but instead, they’ll want to reassure you over your apparent concerns about the funding.  Whether you’re actually concerned or not.

It’s a red herring, a distraction.

Because I Have The Money

Have you heard this one?  The reaction to whatever concerns you raise is simply that they have the money.  They’ll say this to you and then consider the issue closed.  It’s like them saying, “Don’t worry about it.  We can afford it.”  As if the availability to fund a bad idea is somehow going to turn lead into gold, to turn a bad idea into a good one.


This statement is a knee-jerk excuse used in an effort to quash an argument, as if the expense of an idea/program/policy/procedure, etc.  is the sole criteria for success or failure.  Tread carefully here though, because when leadership leads with this excuse, they essentially have nothing else to defend themselves.  It’s like saying, ” I am who am.  And I want to do this.  Deal with it.”  No other rationalization, explanation, justification or darn good reason is given.

You’re encouraged to check the organization chart again.

What to do?  One tactic to consider using is the “There is another way” counter argument, where you first present the problems set up with by the preferred management approach, then suggest circumventing tactics that would – in the end – achieve the same result (management’s goal).  Perhaps you could even save money in the process, but more importantly, you would be offering a way to gain success (their idea) with less downside (problems).

It’s Already In The Budget

This is another lame excuse that’s a close cousin to the first one.  The difference, I suppose is that having the money is anticipatory, while if the money is already budgeted, well then, we’re good to go.  The train has already left the station.

It’s as if to say, “No worries.  We have this covered.”  Again, this sort of response focuses solely on the availability of funds, not whether the idea itself – the reason for spending the money – is a good one.

Our response to this idiot cousin idea should also be similar to your earlier approach, that is, being careful not to overly criticize some senior manager’s pet idea or biased preference.  There’s no need to point out the obvious flaw in their logic.  Instead, you’ll need to be persuasive, not argumentative.  You’ll need to project a concern that the organization succeeds, to acknowledge the valuable contributions of the (suspect) planned approach, then offer a creative alternative that still gets them where they want to go.

Dealing with the lame excuses and poor logic offered by those supposed to be leading the organization is a competency in itself.  Not everyone can pull it off.  You’ll need such skills to succeed where you want to manage, to direct, to lead.  You won’t need it if your plan is to administer.

I Saw It On Dilbert

Dilbert - How To Get Motivated, by Arpit GuptaHere’s a bit of practical advice for every professional out there, whether you’re in Human Resources or frankly any functional department at all.  If you see a work practice or policy highlighted in the Dilbert comic strip (a world of credit to Scott Adams), you should immediately stop that policy or practice as a bad idea.

For the uninitiated out there, since the 1980’s Scott Adams has written about the dysfunctional workplace and its cast of oddball characters that we all recognize.

I used to work for a fellow a number of years ago who had his secretary transcribe his voice mail messages into written text.  He wouldn’t listen to any of his peers/colleagues, never mind lowly little me, that such a practice was – silly/bad/impractical/inefficient/time-wasting, etc.  But when he saw that same practice ridiculed on Dilbert, he stopped that very day.

The World Of Work

Who of us out there cannot identify with the experience of having to work for someone like the “pointy-haired boss?”  Or the co-worker who really doesn’t do anything and always seems to get away with it?

Whether it is Wally the incessant coffee drinking slacker or Dogbert, the HR Director from Hell when these characters suggest a certain course of action I’m usually running in the opposite direction.

Because Dilbert loves to skewer the often ridiculous realities we all seem to face at work.  We can readily identify with the foibles of management, laugh at the meaningless meetings and dysfunctional co-workers, then commiserate with Dilbert himself as the maligned and abused Engineer who keeps trying, day in and day out to keep his sanity in an insane world.


For your entertainment, I have included a few quotes from Scott Adams that relate to the workplace.  You may not agree with everything he says, but he certainly seems to have his hand on the pulse of a commonly mismanaged workforce.

  • “There is no idea so bad that it cannot be made to look brilliant with the proper application of fonts and color.”   Add multiple pages of fluff, lots of colors, a spiral bound booklet and you have the common consultant proposal.
  • “Hard work is rewarding. Taking credit for other people’s hard work is rewarding and faster.” I’ve experienced enough examples of this practice to still get angry at the memories.
  • “The job isn’t done until you’ve blamed someone for the parts that went wrong.”  Finger pointing is a real office skill set, where some players are notoriously Teflon-coated and never seem to face the music.
  • “Be careful that what you write does not offend anybody or cause problems within the company. The safest approach is to remove all useful information.”  Have you ever read an organization’s mission statement?  Or almost anything written by corporate communications?
  • “If you want to kill an idea without being identified as the assassin, suggest that the legal department takes a look at it.”  A good technique for the passive resistor, one who spends more time killing ideas than creating them.
  • “Our system requires a continuous supply of highly capable people who are so disgruntled with their jobs that they are willing to chew off their own arms to escape their bosses.”  So maybe it’s true that employees quit bosses, not organizations.
  • “Accept that some days you are the pigeon and some days you are the statue.”  It rains on everyone.  Those who are successful grab an umbrella and press on.
  • “Lately…the Peter Principle has given way to the “Dilbert Principle.” The basic concept of the Dilbert Principle is that the most ineffective workers are systematically moved to the place where they can do the least damage: management.”  Haven’t we all seen this?  Don’t we all know someone?  How/why did Bob/Sally get promoted?  They must have photos from the Christmas party or some such inexplicable rationale.

So if you read that Wally or Dilbert or the pointy-haired boss are experiencing a new policy, procedure or work practice, laugh along with them even as you move your own thoughts/practices quickly in the opposite direction.

Consider these characters your “daily work alert.”  They’re more accurate than the weatherman.